My Body Battles

(Warning…not strictly writing related…unless you have read The Mess Of Me or intend to one day…Monday was World Mental Health Day and this post is somewhat inspired by that.)

I feel like I have always been at odds with this flesh covered vehicle of transport I call my body.

I think the only time we’ve been on the same side is when we were trying to push out babies. (Although possibly not during the fourth labour, but that’s not a story anyone wants to hear today!)

I remember how I viewed this casing of skin as a child. I can’t remember ever feeling like it fitted me right. It always felt too big. I can clearly recall being about eight years old and noticing the thin, brown arms of a boy sat close to me in the classroom. They were like little brown matchsticks, and when I looked back at mine they seemed too big in comparison. I couldn’t understand why. They were just too fleshy…just too much.

When I was about ten my body began to develop. I had womanly curves whilst still playing with Lego. I hated it. And I hated all the friendly euphemisms for being a big child as well. ‘You’re a big girl, aren’t you?’ ‘It’s just puppy fat.’ Ugh. I didn’t really want to be a fat puppy, funnily enough.

As I grew I became increasingly aware of my unwanted flesh. I had breasts that jiggled and moved. I had hips and a bum. I had rolls of fat when I bent over or squished up. None of it felt like it belonged to me. It all felt like it needed to be shredded.

The weird thing is, if I look back at old photos of me, I really wasn’t as big as I thought I was at the time. I had a brother and two sisters who were all like stick insects, and I was bigger than them and I looked big for my age, but I wasn’t really fat. I was just developing. Still, it was not the body I wanted or felt I should have, and that feeling has never really gone away.

As a teenager my weight went up and down, and more often than not, I simply loathed the human suit I was forced to wear. I wanted to unzip it and step out, revealing the true me. I would have long, thin, shapely legs. Matchstick arms. A flat, hard belly. A neat, trim waist. Angles on my face. I would shed my skin and emerge looking like the girls I saw on TV and in magazines.

At one point in my teenage years, I submitted to my body and gave in. I hated sports because I felt so fat and slow, so I avoided them like the plague, shut myself away in the imaginary worlds of books and writing, and hence got bigger. I thought I was stuck with this flabby cage forever. I did not want people to see me. I often wished I could cease to exist.

During my later years as a teenager, a full on battle commenced. Much like the one Lou goes through in The Mess Of Me. I went to war with my body. I fought back. I kicked its arse and got control of it. I aimed to change it and remould it, to make it into something I could be proud of. It all started off sensibly enough, but as you can imagine, it soon all got rather messy.

I figured out ways of fighting back and rebelling. I told my body to fuck off. I discovered ways I could eat without getting fat. I figured how easy it was to just not eat at all. I realised that I could run and that once I started, it was hard to stop. So I ran faster and faster and faster, doing all I could to outrun the fat girl, to leave that chubby loser far behind.

During my early twenties, this battle continued. It’s fair to say I treated my body like utter shit. I hated it and felt like it hated me. We would never be friends. I would punish it any chance I got. Away from parental control, my University days were not good for me at all. I became obsessed with feeling hungry. With feeling for ribs and hip bones, with feeling the enthralling darkness of pleasure and fear. At my thinnest, I got more compliments than ever. I got noticed by boys, flirted with, asked out. Things that had never happened much when I was bigger. I loved it when people told me how much weight I had lost. I went to a family wedding and people did not recognise me. The only thing that ever scared me into eating  was each time my periods stopped…and only because I was desperate to be a mother.

I’ve always said having children saved me from myself, and it’s true. The first pregnancy we had ended in a miscarriage and I was devastated and completely blamed myself. I’d still been exercising, still watching what I ate, still waging war with my flesh.

The second pregnancy was a success and in the years that followed I threw myself into being the best mother I could be, and although I worked hard to get my body back, it didn’t occupy my mind in quite the same way as it had. There just wasn’t time. Through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding I did, at last, learn to feel pride in my body. It wasn’t just a clumsy machine to be hated and abused, it was actually quite amazing. It could grow a baby. I could feed and sustain and nurture a life. Although I am far from happy with my body today, I do feel an element of pride in wobbly bits and stretch marks. They are part of who I am and what I have chosen to do with my life.

I’ve struggled over the years not to return to the old, messed up me. I was lucky enough to receive therapy before I became a mother, and I truly believe that opportunity set me on the correct path of health and fitness and sensible attitudes.

The thing is, you can’t hurt yourself when you have children because you realise that if you did, you would also be hurting them.

And now here we are. Me and my body which is fast approaching it’s fourth decade and still feels to me like it’s not really mine. I can’t say that we’re friends yet. In fact, lately it has been frustrating me more than  ever. It just won’t let me lose weight. I swear it feels like it’s getting revenge for those years of punishment. It’s getting its own back on me. It’s hanging onto the baby weight my two-year-old left behind like there is no tomorrow. He was a large, overdue, ten pounder who has certainly left his mark. There is fat to spare and my body wants to keep it all! It’s not making milk any longer, but it won’t let the post-baby body shrink no matter what I do.

This battle has been ongoing for six months now, and I am starting to take things up a notch out of sheer desperation. I’ve barely touched a drop of alcohol. I am running and skipping almost every day. I don’t make excuses. If I have a cold, tough. If I only have ten of fifteen minutes, tough. My new motto is Do It Anyway!

Is it making a difference? Slowly. Oh, so…slowly.

My body is now a snail, a slug, a tortoise.

It sneers and rolls its eyes and tells me to fuck off.

I jump on the scales every Friday morning and wonder if they are in fact broken.

I get out with the dogs and run faster and further and harder.

I feel my jeans getting looser in the legs and around the waist.

And then the scales say otherwise…

I honestly don’t know what is going on. I mean, maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m eating more than I realise?? Maybe there is something up with my metabolism!

I only know that I am not going to give up. I am not going to quit and say, okay body you win, I will accept this body wrecked and ruined by childbirth and age. I will take it and be grateful, and I will eat cake and drink wine and never mention it again.

But the problem is the mirror. The old enemy resurfaces. I can’t hold my head up high or look people in the eye when I don’t feel I’m in the right body.

I know it can’t be perfect, and to be honest, perfection was never really the goal. Just feeling happy with it was.

 

The Mess Of Me:Chapter 28

28

 

 

Dear World, I try to be left alone again, but it does not happen.  Now that my mother has the doctor’s words as ammunition, she is firing at me relentlessly, and she won’t give up until I admit she is right, and I am wrong.  She makes me read all the leaflets and the diet sheets.  She sits with me and points out all the low calorie healthy meals I could be eating.  She tells me no one expects me to eat chocolate or crisps or doughnuts if I don’t want to.  She tells me I can count calories and keep jogging if it makes me feel better, but that I simply have to eat three sensible meals a day, and that is final.  She is being strict and motherly with me.  Over protective and firm.  Taking no shit.  Taking no prisoners.  She even has Sara phone me.

“Anorexic she says!” Sara is breathless with awe and disbelief on the other end of the phone.  I am bored and cold.

“Borderline,” I correct her.  “Possibly.”

“You don’t believe it?”

“I don’t get a choice.  I have to put on nine pounds or else!”

“Or else what?”

“I don’t know.  I expect they will strap me down and fucking force-feed me mars bars.”

“Christ Lou!”

“It’s bullshit.”

“You better do what they say.  You know what mum is like.  She is right on one now!”

“Can’t you get up the duff or something and get the attention back on you?”

Sara screams with laughter.  “Glad you still got your wit little sister!”

“It’s all I have,” I sigh.  “And a tiny scrap of sanity.”

“Well we did try to warn you, you were taking it all too far.  I can understand it though.  Wasn’t much fun for you being a chubster was it?”

“No fun at all,” I snort in reply.  “That’s what she doesn’t get.  It’s like she wants to keep me like that.  Her chubby little girl who will eat anything.  I mean, she never once told me to lose weight, did she?  She never dragged me to the doctor about being too fat?  Even though that’s bad for you too?”

“You weren’t that fat Lou,” Sara giggles.

“I was a fucking elephant Sara!”

“No, really you weren’t.  You have a somewhat distorted view of how fat you were.  You were pretty normal really for a teenager.”

“Easy for you to say,” I remind her.  “When you have always been a pretty little stick insect.”

“Oh Lou,” my sister sighs at me down the phone.  “Just please do as they say and be sensible now, yeah?  Passing out must have scared you, yeah?”

“It was quite funny,” I lie.

“Lou!”

“Sorry.  I’ve got to go Sara.  I had a fight with Joe so I need to call him.”

“Okay, okay.  Pass me back to mum then.  I bet she wants a progress report.”

“Okay.  Bye.”

 

I take my mobile out of my pocket and slip into the kitchen.  My mum has made me lunch and left it on the table.  Scrambled egg on wholemeal toast and an apple.  Hmm.  It doesn’t look too bad, I reason with myself.  I can probably manage it.  I think about those nine stupid pounds, and sit at the table and force myself to eat it slowly.  I wonder how much I can get away with not eating.  I always feel like a total pig if I clean the plate, so I leave the crusts, and about two teaspoonfuls of egg.  My mum hangs up on Sara and comes in to see me.  She still has that disapproving and strict air about her.  She folds her arms and frowns at my plate.  I smile at her hopefully.

“Just about to call Joe,”

“What for?”

“Need to talk,” I shrug.

“Okay then.”

 

“When are you doing it?” is the first thing I ask Joe when he answers his phone.  I hear him sigh heavily, because he knows what I am referring to.

“Friday night like normal,” he says.

“I’m sorry I stormed off.”

“My mum says you have anorexia.”

“That’s outrageous!” I hiss down the phone at him.  I hear him snort, and I am relieved that he is not completely buying it like they all are.

“So you don’t then?”

“What do you bloody think, idiot face?  Do I look like I have?”

“Well,” he says slowly.  “Not quite.”

“Jesus Christ, I can’t believe she said that.”

“You know what they’re like.  My mum was on the phone to your mum for bloody ages the other day.  Then she comes and has a go at me.  Apparently if I was a real friend, I would have noticed!”

“You’re joking?”  I squeal.  “She said that?  What a….” I want to say bitch, but I am aware of my mum in the kitchen, most likely listening in.

“Don’t worry about it,” Joe tells me.  “We’re okay though? You and me?”

“Well yeah.  But I still don’t want you to go.  You know.”

“Is your mum there?”

“Yeah, how can you tell?”

Joe laughs.  “Look, it’s all right,” he tells me.  “It’s an old customer.  Cool bloke.  Then that is it.  I have told Leon, I swear I have.  I said last time.  Last time!  That’s it and I mean it.  I really mean it Lou.”

I am leaning against the wall.  In my mind I can see him disappearing into the darkness again, with that lump in his pocket. I wish there was something I could say to change his mind.  “I just don’t want to see you going that way,” I say in a low voice.  “You know, for all your life.  Like they are.  I don’t want it to lead to other things.  Other favours.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Okay then.”

“You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“Okay.  See you Saturday then?  Do something fun?”

I sigh a misery-laden sigh at his hopeful suggestion.  “Whatever fun there is to be had around here, we’ll try to find it,” I promise, and we say goodbye.

 

I spend the next few days trying to stay calm.  I try to avoid looking in mirrors as much as possible, because it feels like every mouthful of food my mother watches me eat is already creating a nice layer of padding around my bones.  I don’t like it, and I tell my wall I don’t.  Fat is wrapping around me, around and around, binding me up, tying me down, filling me out.  They can’t see it, but I can feel it.  I wonder if my mother ever looks at my wall?  Hi mum, thanks mum, I write, just in case.

I have to admit that my headache goes though.  But I tell myself this is because I deliberately avoid Joe and Marianne, and so do not smoke any pot or drink any cider.  I am all clean and healthy, I think bitterly.  I am getting filled up with nutritionally sound meals.  My mother has read every leaflet with gusto.  I go out for jogs, and long walks with Gremlin, and she just sighs.  As long as I am eating the three meals, she seems calm.

“Counselling of some sort will be good for you,” she tells me, and I can tell she has been thinking about this a lot.  “Getting through the teenage years is tough enough for anyone you know.  It will give you some tools to help you later in life.”

“Is that what it says in the leaflets?” I ask her.  She gives me a look.  I feel like we are having a silent war with each other.  I feel like doing it all the way she wants, then doing a Sara and moving out at eighteen so I can do what the hell I want, and eat what the hell I want.

 

On Friday night, I am thinking about Joe, and sitting on the sofa nursing my swollen tummy, when the phone rings.  My mum and Les are curled up together on the other sofa.  I have Gremlin on my legs, snoring.  My tummy feels too full, it feels gross, like it could split open if I move.  Mum cooked salmon, new potatoes, green beans and carrots for dinner.  “Very healthy, very low calorie,” she nodded at me when I sat at the table.

“Not the usual greasy takeaways tonight,” Les commented cheerfully, tucking into his.  He has started talking to me lately, which is fair enough.  Except that every single thing he says is cold and dull and I don’t give a shit about it.

I got out of eating two potatoes, a chunk of fish and a few carrots.  I felt my mother’s eyes watching every single mouthful I ate.  Now I am feeling too full, too heavy to move.  I couldn’t jog if I wanted to.  Thanks mum.

No one moves when the phone rings.  There is no way I am getting it, even though I see my mum staring at me.  I drop one arm over Gremlin, in case she has forgotten about him being asleep on me.  She starts to sigh and untangle herself from Les, but then the phone stops.  She rolls her eyes and leans back into Les.  I yawn.  I am thinking about going to bed.  I don’t know what time it is, but I reckon it must be nearly eleven.

The phone starts ringing again, making us all jump.  Mum looks at Les and laughs out loud.  “That gave me a fright!” she announces.  “I better get it this time.” She heaves herself free of him and the sofa and dashes into the hallway.  Les just stares at the TV.  He has nothing to say, and neither do I.

“Calm down, calm down,” I can hear my mother saying in the hallway, so I sit up, looking towards the door.  “Okay, just calm down Lorraine.  I will come over!”

Lorraine?  I get up from the sofa so quickly that Gremlin is hurled unceremoniously to the floor.  I run out into the hallway and I can straight away see that something is badly wrong.  Mum is clutching the phone with white knuckles, and her face is contorted with concern.  She grimaces at me as I wait.  I mouth ‘what is it?’ to her, but she just shakes her head.

“Okay, okay,” she says, “keep calm, I’m coming over.  I’ll sit with the little ones for you.  It’ll be all right Lorraine, do you hear me honey?  It will be a mistake, I am telling you!  You just hold on.  I’ll be five minutes.”

Mum drops the phone and starts turning around, looking for shoes.  “What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“It’s Joe,” she says, and my blood freezes.  My heart stops.  Every hair on my body stands on end.

“What?”

She is slipping on her shoes, pulling one over one heel, and then the other.  She snatches her keys and her bag from the hall table and pokes her head into Les.  “Got to go to Lorraine’s,” she tells him.  “Emergency!  You stay with Lou, and I’ll call from there in a minute.”

“Okay!” Les says, sounding alarmed.  Mum heads for the door, seeming to have forgotten all about me.

“Mum!  What about Joe?  What is it?”

“Oh love I am sure it is all a mistake, a silly mix up,” she turns to me as she unlocks the front door.

“But what?  What?  Is he okay?”

“He’s at the police station,” mum says to me.  “I’ve got to sit with the younger ones while Lorraine and Mick go down there.”

“The police station?” I gasp, my hand fluttering to my throat.  “What for?”

“Oh Lou,” she sighs, going out of the door. “It really does sound so ridiculous, it must be a mistake, but he’s been arrested!  Arrested for drug dealing!  Can you believe that?  I’ve got to go, got to go.”

She leaves me with that, and she is gone.

I feel cold, so cold.  I feel sick.  I cannot breathe so I lean against the wall.  Jesus fucking Christ, I think.  “Are you all right?”  I am dimly aware of Les stood next to me in the hallway, looking at me.  I just stare in confusion at the floor.  I think, maybe I should run after my mum, go with her?  I look at the door, considering it.  Les shifts nervously in the doorway.  “Lou, are you all right?”  I look back at the floor, trembling, on the verge of pathetic tears.  Would she just turn me back though?  Shit!  Joe at the police station!  I start to nibble at my fingernails.  I know what I should do.  I know what the adult thing to do would be.  To tell them the truth.  To tell them it’s not his drugs.  To tell on Leon and Travis.  “Do you want to come and sit with me?” Les asks.  I look at him and frown.  Who the fuck is he?  What does he want?

“I should go with her,” I tell him, looking back at the door.

“I think it’s best to wait here.”

“I’ll phone her!” I dash to the hall table and hover nervously in front of the phone.  I am trying to work out how long she has already been gone, and how much longer it will take her to get to Joe’s house.  Les sort of sighs behind me and goes back into the lounge.  I chew my fingernails viciously and keep my eyes on the phone.  I count inside my head.  I count to sixty five times.  That should be long enough.  I snatch the phone up and punch in Joe’s number.  It only rings twice before my mum answers it.

“Hello?”

“Mum, it’s me!”

“Oh Lou, we’ve got to leave the line free darling. They’ve just left to go down the station and they might need to phone me!”

“But quick, tell me what’s happened!”

“I don’t know any more Lou,” my mum hisses back, as if she is trying to keep her voice down.  “All I know is the police called the house because they picked him up and found drugs on him! I am seriously hoping this all turns out to be a big mistake, otherwise me and you are going to be having yet more words!”

Oh Christ, what does she mean by this? “I’ll let you go,” I say, and hang up the phone.  I stand in the hallway with my hands over my face.  This is a nightmare I think.  This is the worst thing that could have ever happened!  I want to punch the wall.  Or myself.  I tried to tell him not to do it again, didn’t I?  Oh why hadn’t I tried harder?  Why hadn’t he listened?

I am standing in the darkened hallway, with my hands pressed tightly against my face.  I try to calm down.  I try to breathe, in and out, slowly, and purposefully.  I try to think.  I think about Joe. My heart lurches and twists.  My skin prickles.  I drop my hands when I hear a noise at the front door, and I stare at it.  I can see shadows moving there, on the other side of the glass.  I move towards it cautiously.  I am shuddering from head to toe.  There is a small, light tap on the door.  It makes me imagine someone brushing their knuckles against it, trying not to make too much noise.  I look back at the lounge, and there is no movement or sound from Les, so I presume he has not heard anything.

I open the door, and Leon and Travis are there in the darkness.  Travis is just in front of his brother, wearing a white t-shirt that makes him look like a ghost, floating in my front garden.  He is rubbing at one bare arm, as he lifts himself from one foot to the other.  The guilt and the shock are etched on his face.  I don’t get a choice about whether I want to speak to them or not.  Leon reaches past Travis, grabs my arm and pulls me outside.  He then pulls the door softly shut behind me.  He is big and broad in his black leather jacket, and he leans over me, with one arm on the wall behind.  “You know what’s going on?” he asks in a low voice.  I nod.  I look at Travis.

“You have to help him,” I say.  Travis drops his gaze to the ground and says nothing.

“It’s not that simple,” Leon tells me.  “We’ve both got previous.  We’ll probably get sent down.”

“But Joe….”

“He’ll get a caution, a fine,” Leon says this dismissively, shrugging his shoulders at me as if it is all very obvious.  “He’ll be home later.  No worries.”  I can hardly believe what I am hearing.

“No worries?” I whisper, staring up at Leon in horror.  “Are you serious?”

“He’s not going to drop us in it,” Leon tells me, and I can see by the look in his eyes that he truly believes this.  “We just need to make sure you’re not either.”

“He’s right,” Travis finally speaks up, though he seems to find it excruciatingly difficult to look me in the eye.  “Joe will be fine.  He’s not going to prison or anything.”

“I can’t believe you’re prepared to even risk it!” I tell him.  “He’s your brother, doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Leon rolls his eyes, looks at Travis, and spreads his feet as he straightens up.  “He didn’t want to go,” I look at him then.  “Did he?  He said no.  He didn’t want to do it anymore, but you wouldn’t take no for an answer would you?”

“It was the last one.”

“You keep saying that!  It’s all lies!  This is your new job isn’t it?  This is what you both do!  This is it!”

Leon drops a hand urgently onto my shoulder.  “Keep your fucking voice down!” he snarls at me.  “Just calm the fuck down!”

“You’re going to ruin his life,” I say, shaking my head in pure disbelief.  “You don’t care.  You don’t care what your mum and Mick will do to him!”

“We’ll sort that,” Travis says desperately.  “Just let us sort it yeah?  Say you’ll stay out of it.  It’s between us and Joe anyway.”

“Bastards,” I say though clenched teeth.  I point at Leon.  “I won’t say anything until I know what’s happened to Joe.  But if I think for a moment he’s going to jail, I’ll fucking run down the police station, right?”

“Don’t forget you helped too,” Leon reminds me then, and he sort of leans back a little, stretching out his spine and looking unbothered, arrogant even.  “You and Joe.  In it up to your necks.  We didn’t force you, did we?”

“I didn’t take any money,” I growl at him.  “You fucking dick.”

“Whatever.  You went with him.  You knew.  That’s just as bad.  So keep your mouth shut and sit tight or you’ll be getting arrested yourself.”  He moves away then, as I stare at him in silence.  Travis moves with him, his arms hanging, and his shoulders slumped.  I look his way.

“Scumbags,” I hiss.

“We’ll sort it out,” he says to me, trailing after Leon.

“Liar!” I call after him.  They don’t look back.  Neither of them do.  I watch them go.  I want to sink down to my knees and sob into the ground.  I want to run after them, find a massive rock and bludgeon them around the head with it.  I don’t know what to do.  So I go indoors.  I go up to my room.  I sit on my bed, and hug my knees and rock back and forth, trying to find the answers.  But I am sixteen years old.  I know nothing.